Cooking food can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably lost count of the times that you’ve seen something amazing on TV or eaten something delicious in a restaurant and returned, inspired, to your kitchen, only to find that even your best efforts end up tasting like insipid mush. It’s enough to make anyone miserable.
There seems to always be a fine line separating even the very best home cooks from the pros. Though training and hours of practise certainly play their part, there are a few cheeky tricks of the trade that help chefs to continue lording it over the rest of us. To them, we say, “No More”. Here are seven things that restaurants do to make their food taste better than yours.
Maybe because we’re all petrified of cholesterol and an early death, but homecooks tend to be a little shy when it comes to the salt seller. This is where restaurants have the upper hand. Chefs know that seasoning every component of a dish is crucial to produce the desired depth of flavour, and there’s a good chance that most dishes have been enhanced with several aggressive sprinkles of salt.
You wouldn’t believe the number of these little relatives of the onion that restaurants go through on a daily basis. According to Anthony Bourdain, the staff at Les Halles used to get through “over 20 pounds per day”. More subtle than their tangy big brothers, shallots are a great way to add depth to sauces, stocks and almost any other dish staple that you’d care to mention.
It’s often said that fat is flavour, which perhaps helps to explain why professional cooks can’t do without butter. The easiest way to land a punch of richness or add a glossy sheen to a grim looking sauce, butter is perhaps the biggest obstacle standing between you and restaurant-tasting cooking.
When you’re at home, you’d think nothing of flinging chicken carcasses and vegetable trimmings in the general direction of your bin. When you’re in the restaurant business, however, you can’t afford to keep throwing food out. That’s where stock comes in. Huge pots of liquid, filled with the remnants of prep and reduced over several hours, can produce an incredible flavour that forms the backbone of every great restaurant sauce you’ve ever eaten.
Though the recipe that you may be carefully following might call for specific temperature changes every few minutes, you can’t afford that sort of luxury in the middle of service. This means that many professional ovens are often on at full blast, all day and night. Coupled with the extensive prep that they get through beforehand, the high temperatures produce crisp crusts and deep caramelisation, all of which adds to the eating experience.
You might think that making food look pretty is essentially unimportant. In many ways, this is the tasty cherry on top of the professional cooking cake. Scientists have proved time and time again that visual appeal can drastically affect the flavour of food and can make all the difference to your enjoyment of a meal. By thinking more carefully about your plating and including added extras like garnish, you can transform your food without doing anything different cooking wise.
However hard you try, it’s incredibly difficult to pull all these techniques together by yourself. At the core of any successful professional kitchen is a highly trained and well orchestrated team. While one preps veg, another will make sauce, whilst another grills fish and another plates up. It all comes together thanks to communication and teamwork. For as long as you’re by yourself, slaving away over a single stove, this will probably be the hardest nut to crack.
Every professional kitchen has their own tricks for making tasty food, formed from years of grafting in sweaty kitchens. Unfortunately, the chances are you’ll never be able to master all of them in your own home. However, following a few of the reasons above can help to take your home cooking to the next level.